“And so the river flows, the circle game repeats, the rutted road gets easier to walk down…And that is how it is for all three of these women—all three of these girls like us—who were born into one female culture and changed it—year by year, song by song, risk by risk—so sweepingly and daringly.”
These are the final words from the entrancing biography Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller. Girls Like Us is the thorough and delightful tale of three of the best singer-songwriters of the 60s: Carly Simon, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell. I was drawn to the book as someone whose childhood memories are touched with many a Carole King or James Taylor song tucked into the background. My parents are huge fans of the famed singers, and they made sure their kids were as well.
Honestly, I picked up the novel, hoping to find more about James Taylor and it’s true, the story did satisfy a lot of my curiosity about James Taylor’s involvement with all of the ladies on the cover, but what really pulled me in was how fascinating the women themselves really were. They were fans of braving paths unknown for women at the time, but somehow they were still dealing with the same issues any woman deals with whether you make your living from writing music about your life or not.
Between the three of them, they racked up quite a name-dropping list of husbands and lovers: Jack Nicholson, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Mick Jagger just to name a few. The names on the list are sometimes baffling and seem so fictional, one can only read some of the stories from their lives and laugh. But it’s the songwriters’ abilities to turn their luck or loss in love (and in life!) into these magical tunes that really make them special. Carole, Joni, and Carly were Taylor Swift and Adele far before confessional singing was cool—in fact, it’s because of their honesty and brashness that the confessional singing genre even exists.
Weller finds a way to segment and detail the lives of (what seems like) three very different women, and connect them to you in a way that you never could imagine you would be. And without even directly touching on what is considered right or wrong now for women, something in the way Weller tells the stories of these women is almost like a little nudge on the back saying, “Go on, just do whatever it is you’ve been wanting to do. Why not?”
Even if only for the love of songs like “Case of You” and “Natural Woman,” Girls Like Us is certainly worth the read. Weller helps contextualize how each of your favorite songs came into existence.
Carole King with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
“Case of You” by Joni Mitchell
Carly Simon with “You’re So Vain”